My Ancestors Emigrated from Hertfordshire



Old Herts

Quite a few requests for information on the internet are looking for details of an ancestor who emigrated from England sometime in the last 400 years. The following tips are given to help people to know what to include in their request.

Much of this information is also relevant to tracing the origins

 of someone who moved within England.

(1) Remember that you are looking for a person.

If you simply look for a name and a date of birth without any other checking you could well end up with the wrong person as an ancestor. It was very common for cousins to have the same given name - however uncommon the surname. The danger is well illustrated by the census returns for Kimpton in 1851 where two families lived at Ansels End. One was headed by John IVORY, aged 50, born at Kimpton and married to Susannah, and the other was occupied by John IVORY, aged 50, born at Kimpton and married to Ann. In this case you can't help noticing that there are two John Ivory's of the same age and place of birth - but if the two lived in adjacent parishes, rather than adjacent houses it would be easy to assume that the first one you found was the one you are looking for. See Right Name, Wrong Body.

(2) Why did they leave England?

There can be many reasons for leaving England, and each have implications for the type of records that will need to be searched.

Their work: Merchant seamen, traders, soldiers and civil servants who would have travelled as part of their work, may have decided to remain overseas, or returned there after retirement. Other may have travelled with a well-to-do family (such as a colonial governor) as domestic servants. Unlike most other groups of emigrants, such people will have had a first hand experience of the new country before they committed themselves to staying there.

They were sent there: This will include criminals who were transported and who had no say about where they went, and little knowledge of the country to which they were going. While some may have had the option to return after their sentence was up, many will have chosen to stay. Some went for similar reasons, but not "officially." Reasonably well-to-do families sometimes sent their "black sheep" overseas to get them out of the way, while other emigrants may have been fleeing the courts - including the bankruptcy court. - and deliberately exiled themselves.

They were "political" refugees: Many of the early emigrants to America were, in effect, refugees escaping from religious persecution, and this immediately says something about their background. Initial religious affiliations can give important clues to the family religious beliefs before they left England. It may also be an indication that they would have made as little use of the Established Church as possible, and so there are no records in the parish registers.

They were economic refugees: A number of emigrants at the bottom of the social pile would have been unable to emigrate if they had to pay their fare. A number of parishes decided that it was cheaper to send the poorest families overseas than to maintain them on the poor rate, and a number may have been dispatched as a group. In 1873 the agricultural workers union arranged to find new work for strikers from Sandridge, Herts, who lost their jobs and may well have helped some travel overseas. Definitely many of the labourers who lost their jobs in the major agricultural strike which affected the East of England in 1874 went overseas.

They were looking for a better future: Basically they were unsatisfied with their prospects in England and, based on reports they had heard (the grass on the other side of the fence is always greener), they made a deliberate decision to go. They may have been tempted by special offers of cheap fares and/or land by counties where needed more people to develop, or they may have seen expanding markets for their trades. One must remember that some may well have been attracted by stories of gold and other riches.

(3) What did they do?

What did your ancestor do when he arrived? If he had a trade in England his occupation overseas may well be related. A farm labourer was more likely to become a farmer when he got to Australia than would a cobbler. In the new country there would be a need for carpenters, brewers, millwrights, etc., and someone with these skills could well find it very profitable to use their expertise when they arrived. As trades ran in families, the trade followed overseas may well relate to the trade the family followed in Hertfordshire.

(4) How well off were they when they arrived?

Do their activities when they arrived suggest that they had access to significant funds when they emigrated. Of course some people, on entering a new country, may have made a fortune because they were able to exploit some unfilled niche - and it may sometimes be difficult, without extensive knowledge, to distinguish between the alternatives. However it should be remembered that the English society was very highly structured in the past, and initial wealth (or abject poverty) could give clues to the pre-emigration background. Information about education (even if merely a knowledge as to whether they could read and write) can provide similar clues about social status. (When the town of Lloydminster was established is an undeveloped area of Canada, my wife's relative William Rendell, shipped out a Grand Piano, and built the first wooden house when he arrived. Others in the party probably owned little more that the clothes they stood up in and spent the first winter living in tents during the bitter winter.)

(5) How did they name their family?

Given names ran in families, and if the family had several sons they were likely to be named after the father, grandfather(s), and uncles, while daughters would be named after the mother, grandmother(s) and aunts. This tradition would have almost certainly been retained in the first generations overseas, and if the same given names are used by the emigrant family and the possible Hertfordshire relatives it is a clue that you may be on the right track. If none of the given names coincide you probably have the wrong Hertfordshire family. See The Inheritance of Christian Names

(6) Who did they know?

Your ancestors may have travelled from England with a party of people they knew in England, or because a relative or friend suggested they join them. Maybe a future wife came out to join her husband to be. Some small towns overseas may well have been established by a party recruited by the same Hertfordshire emigration agent, and while your ancestor's place of birth may merely have been recorded as Hertfordshire, more detailed information on some of those who came over at the same time may suggest more local areas.

(7) What did they say about their origins?

Family traditions are great - and usually have a grain of truth in them, but it is important to realise that verbal traditions are upwardly socially mobile - in that the favourable is emphasised and the disreputable is suppressed. With repeated telling over the generations an ancestor who was a private in the army at the time of the Battle of Waterloo becomes someone who fought bravely at Waterloo, and he has possibly risen in rank as the story was retold over the years. An illegitimate child born to a lowly servant in one of the great British country houses becomes a descendant of Lord xxxxx. Among my own ancestors we now know that a family tradition relating to the Civil War that could not have involved the person named (they were only two years old) - but may well relate to another member of the family. The emigrant may also have falsified his past on arriving in overseas. Nearly 100 years ago a relative ended up in Australia as a "bachelor" having "forgotten" he had married a few years earlier in New Zealand. Others, having more to hide, may well have assumed a "new personality", possibly including a new name, occupation, and place of birth, when they arrived in a country where their past would not be known. The important thing is to keep an open mind. See What did your Ancestor call himself

(8) Who might help you?

When you publish a query about an ancestor from Hertfordshire on the World Wide Web the ideal respondent would be a professional historian and genealogist, with plenty of free time on his hands. He would have ready access to the most appropriate records offices, and just happens to be a distant cousin, who already has your ancestor on his family tree. As very few such ideal relatives exist it is important to realise that there are many other people with overlapping interests who may be able to point you in the right direction. Their interests could include:

Their ancestor also came from Hertfordshire and emigrated on the same ship
They are researching the village your ancestor came from
They have an in depth knowledge of your ancestor's occupation in the county
They know about specialist documents that could help you.

If you want help from such people make sure that you include something to interest them when you post your request for information..

(9) Don't forget basic information?

The above advice suggests information you could include in a request about your ancestor who emigrated from England. In addition you should include the birth and emigration dates as accurately as your knowledge allows, whether they emigrated as a single person or as a family, and the nature of the records which suggest that they came from (a village in) Hertfordshire.

(10) Finally

Early emigrants from England may well be recorded as "founding fathers" in their new homeland. Became they were one of a comparatively small number of pioneers, particularly if they were involved in some kind of land settlement, etc., there were good reasons for records being kept. Many emigrants left because they were misfits looking for a better life. They would not be missed when they left a population of millions, and nobody would have bothered to record their departure. Apart from the registers (which themselves are often far from a complete record, particularly for non-conformists), comparatively few records survive at the parish level from the 17th century, with great variations between one parish and another. This means that the chances of being able to prove a link for the average early settler in America is not good.

Page undated November 2009